Clive Lyttle, basketmaker

 7 November 2014

Clive and his partner Elaine Burke offer a broad range of traditional country craft skills that they practise, teach and demonstrate. Their business, Wellig Heritage Crafts, was established in 2004 and it operates from a smallholding on the Ards Peninsula in Northern Ireland.

"Basketmaking courses run all year around for both beginners and those with some previous experience. "

Hometown?

Originally from Belfast, over ten years ago we moved to our idyllic smallholding.

What job do you do?

I am a country crafts practitioner. I have a wide range of skills that include traditional basketmaking, willow weaving, hedge laying, dry stone walling, green wood turning and woodland management.

Some of these I offer as a service and I take commissions. I also hold workshops, teach country craft skills and demonstrate at outdoor events and schools.

How did you get started?

I’m largely self-taught. There aren’t many places you can go to learn the skills I have.

After studying Biology and History at University I worked in environmental conservation – something I have a passion for. After nine years I was made redundant but was able to use my redundancy money to set up my business with a little help from InvestNI and, over time, an Arts Council grant.

We invested our own money into the business. That meant that any profit we made was ours to keep and re-invest in our work.

The business started with five acres of pasture and two run down stone cottages. Living on site, we planted willow beds and hazel for coppicing.

This meant we were growing our own materials for basket weaving and, because we owned the property, our overheads were quite low. It was hard work but we found a good balance between work and home life.

What qualification do you have?

I’m largely self-taught. There aren’t many places you can go to learn the skills I have.

What do you do at work?

We run a traditional country craft business and maintain our own smallholding. We’re best known for the baskets we make in the traditional way and for commissioned basketry sculpture (non-functional, artistic basketry for display).

We have completed commissioned pieces for retails outlets, weddings and even for the film and television industry. We also make rustic furniture and gardenware to order, offer country craft services like hedgelaying and dry stone walling, and teach at schools and in our own workshop.

Our weekends often involve us working, maybe at a craft fair, demonstrating our crafts.

We demonstrate our skills at outdoor events and country fairs around Northern Ireland – like the Balmoral Show, Shane’s Castle Steam Rally and the Boley Fair in Hillstown. Lots to keep us busy.

Basketmaking courses run all year around for both beginners and those with some previous experience. These are held at our workshop and at other places around the region. We really enjoy working with schools in two ways: we install and we teach. We establish eco-gardens and vegetable plots, willow structures and raised beds, water features and orchards.

Hands-on workshops and outdoor classes with pupils teach them about the world around them, encouraging an understanding and appreciate of biodiversity.

Because we grow our own willow and hazel there’s always a lot to do around the smallholding. Maintenance is labour intensive, nothing is automated and it’s an all year round process.

What’s the best thing about your job?

We take a holistic approach to both work and family life; our workshop is just 100 yards away from our home.

You need to be everything, from basketmaker to accountant. 

We have children and we manage work around their needs. It’s all about balance. The work is varied too.

One day we might be maintaining a dry stone wall the next we might be making a specially commissioned basketry sculpture. We thrive on the variety and I love to make things with my hands.

What’s the worst thing about your job?

You need to be everything, from basketmaker to accountant. We don’t have a regular working week and there’s no such thing as a normal day.

Our weekends often involve us working, maybe at a craft fair, demonstrating our crafts. We like it but I imagine it wouldn’t suit everyone.

How do I become a country crafts practitioner?

1. Be committed. It’s not easy but it’s very rewarding.

2. Practise your craft then teach others, otherwise these crafts will die out.

3. Be prepared to be everything, from craftsperson to accountant.


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